Tyler Johnson is coming back to where he started. The former South Carolina baseball (2015-2017) pitcher spent the last six years playing professional baseball, and after some injuries slowed him in the last couple of seasons, he has hung up his spikes and is taking advantage of the Carolina Degree Completion Program at the University to finish what he started.
“I got into school for this summer. I’m going to knock out some classes, and hopefully finish up this fall,” said Johnson, who is completing his degree in public health. “It’s always nice when you can come to school and then pursue a career in professional sports, and it’s nice to have that parachute and have this option available to finish up to bridge the gap in figuring out what you want to do in the real world. It’s another one of those things that makes the University great.”
The Carolina Degree Completion Program, which is part of the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise, is for student-athletes who left the university in good academic standing to pursue a professional career or did not complete their degree due to personal circumstances. The program allows those former student-athletes to apply to be readmitted to come back to campus and finish their degree while eligible to receive funding for room, board, books, and tuition. They also have access to all of the resources offered to current student-athletes, such as tutors, laptops, and use of the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center.
Some of his classes will be online and some will be in person, so like anything he has had to do with different levels of baseball, it will be an adjustment coming back to college.
“One of the classes I had left was an entry level anthropology class, and I was really hoping I that didn’t have to go in that class because I’ll probably be the oldest person in there by about nine or ten years!” Johnson said with a laugh.
“Being able to play a game for a living, even if it’s a short time, is something special.”
Johnson was a top 25 prospect coming out of high school in Virginia, but he decided to come to South Carolina to play and continue his education instead trying to go straight into professional baseball.
“Coming out of high school, I wasn’t fully developed,” Johnson said. “I definitely needed a year to three years to grow into my own body. When South Carolina came along, it was an easy call to make.”
Johnson excelled coming out of the bullpen for the Gamecocks, amassing 19 saves in his final two seasons. Perhaps one of his most memorable games however was the only game he started in 2016 when he tossed a complete game against UNC Wilmington in the NCAA Tournament, allowing just one run on five hits with 11 strikeouts and took home MVP honors for the Regional.
“I was just fired up to close out the game against Duke (the day before), and the next day, I didn’t think I was going to pitch at all,” Johnson said. A few conversations with assistant coaches during the first of two games the Gamecocks would play the following day, led to the decision to get him the ball to start second game. “I was thinking I would throw two or three innings and get the boys off to a good start. I remember getting through three, and (pitching) Coach (Jerry) Meyers walking up to me and asking, do you have one more? Another compounded into another. Next thing you know, it’s the sixth inning, and I figured that I was done for the rest of the tournament, so we may as well save the guys in the back (of the bullpen). I got to a certain point where I just said I was going to throw as hard as I could for the rest of the game. That was definitely one of my favorite memories, if not the favorite memory I have playing the game.”
The Gamecocks would win the Regional to advance to the Super Regional the following weekend. Johnson had also spent some time donning the red, white, and blue as he pitched for the USA Collegiate National Team for games in Taiwan, Japan, and Cuba. He played some with Team USA later in his career as well.
“Those games are very fun and meaningful to athletes,” Johnson said. “To put USA across your chest is a little bit different. You have a huge sense of pride. It’s something I really enjoyed.”
He was selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft following his junior season of 2017. After paying his dues for a few seasons in single-A baseball, Johnson spent several seasons in Double-A and Triple-A with the organization. Unfortunately, a knee injury and later an elbow injury the last couple of seasons took its toll, and Johnson realized it was time to move on.
“Being able to play a game for a living, even if it’s a short time is something special,” Johnson said. “Baseball players have a lot of ‘kid’ in them, and they never want to give that up.
“You knew it was coming at some point, but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to. I’m 27, which seems old, but I’m going to get a late start into the real world. We’ll be alright.”
Tyler got married on New Year’s Eve this past year to his longtime girlfriend, Jeannie.
“I’ve lasted three months, and we only have a lifetime to go!” Johnson said happily.
To hear more from Tyler Johnson, listen to the Gamecock Talk podcast. Just search “Gamecock Talk” wherever you get your podcasts!